By STEPHEN P. ROBERTS
Thanks to B.C.’s strong economy and the B.C. Liberal government’s solid plan, we are seeing unprecedented investments in health care throughout the province.
And given the aging of our population, meeting the health-care needs of Salt Spring Islanders over the next few years is going to require some significant investments here at home.
Our hospital — Lady Minto — was built in the late 1960s, when my mother started work there as a nurse. Much has changed since then and the building itself would seem to be approaching the end of its lifespan. The condition of the emergency room, with its cramped quarters and lack of privacy, is well known to islanders. Designed originally as an acute care facility, the hospital now houses a significant long-term care population. While the care provided by the medical team and staff is excellent, it is clear we need to be looking at a major upgrade or replacement of the facility.
In addition to being important to the island as a medical facility, Lady Minto is a critical economic driver too. It provides employment, but it is also a key factor that goes into the mix for anyone contemplating moving their family or retiring to Salt Spring. Think of how many island services and businesses are affected by that decision.
Meanwhile, Greenwoods Eldercare Society is contracted by Island Health to provide residential care services but struggles to meet operating costs or to retire debt and build reserves for replacement, again despite the valiant efforts of staff and board. The government’s recent investment in increasing daily care hours is a very positive development on the operating side, but here again, we need to plan towards capital investments as well.
In addition to Greenwoods, Braehaven and Meadowbrook also offer options for seniors, but with our aging population, additional supply will be needed.
As well, despite the best efforts of government and Island Health, we still face a challenge when it comes to attracting physicians to meet our primary health-care needs and keep our hospital viable.
In 2016, seven new mental health professionals were assigned to Salt Spring, but further resources will be needed along with a long-term location from which to provide that care.
In December 2016, the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation announced that it would be studying the need for, issues surrounding, and feasibility of a primary care centre on Salt Spring in conjunction with various island stakeholders. That process is now underway and islanders can expect an opportunity to contribute to the dialogue in the next month or so.
The LMHF also is working with Island Health on a solution for the ER at Lady Minto, and is close to signing a memorandum of understanding that would see a plan created for a new ER. How much progress is made and how far we get with some of these initiatives will depend on many factors.
The LMHF is preparing to commit significant financial resources to the ER project. The Capital Regional District, through its hospital board, has indicated a willingness to participate as well. Island Health is as usual prioritizing the interests of its many communities. And the province has announced plans for $2.7 billion worth of health-care capital investment in B.C. over the next three years.
Given the needs ahead, and the complexities of our modern health-care system, it is clear that Salt Spring needs a strong advocate to work with senior levels of government to ensure that our needs are recognized and that our island receives the investments that will keep our community strong and thriving.
The writer is the chair of the LMHF, the Salt Spring Hospice Society and the Vancouver Hospice Society. He is also the BC Liberal candidate for Saanich North and the Islands in the 2017 provincial election.